I admit to having fever phobia. When one of my kid’s temperature rises to 101° F, it makes all kinds of nervous. Suddenly I wish my children’s skin were made out of glass and I could peek inside to see what is going on in there. But even though we can’t see inside their bodies, we can read the signs of their symptoms. It turns out, administering a fever reducer (antipyretic medication) at the first appearance of a fever is not beneficial to the body’s defenses. Fevers aren’t the problem: they are the body’s solution.
A fever is a body temperature over 100.4° F. A fever is not an illness, but a symptom that the body is fighting some kind of infection, either viral or bacterial. A fever that is not causing great discomfort does not need to be treated, especially if it’s low (under 102° F), but if your child has accompanying symptoms like lethargy, fussiness, poor appetite, sore throat, cough, ear pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, it may be a sign of something that requires a trip to your doctor, and at the very least a phone call.
Most doctors agree that you should “treat the child, not the number.” You can tell a lot about how your child is acting and behaving to determine if they would need fever-reducing medication. Treating the fever doesn’t take away the illness.
For infants younger than 4 months with a rectal temperature above 100.4° F or above, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends he or she should immediately be taken to your pediatrician or an emergency room, because it could be a sign of a life-threatening infection. For young children, the same rule applies for any fever over 104° F.
Here are some tips on how to deal with mild and moderate fevers in toddlers and children:
Get Over your Fever Phobia
As a new parent I thought any fever could spike and would instantly cause brain damage. It turns out that is not the case. According to Seattle Children‘s, “Fevers with infections don’t cause brain damage. Only body temperatures above 108° F (42° C) can cause brain damage. The body temperature climbs this high only with extreme environmental temperatures (for example, if a child is confined to a closed car in hot weather).” Untreated fevers caused by infection seldom go over 105° F unless the child is overdressed.
Virus Fighting Powers
A fever is part of an effective immune response, and one of the best weapons your body has against germs. Scientists discovered “generation and differentiation of a particular kind of lymphocyte, known as a “CD8+ cytotoxic T-cell” (capable of destroying virus-infected cells and tumor cells) is enhanced by mild fever-range hyperthermia.” Also, replication of viruses are reduced by even a moderate rise in temperature. So by giving a fever-reducing medication for even just a low fever you are thwarting the body’s natural defenses.
Water is simply a miracle cure for so many things: headaches, joint pain, fatigue, and fevers. With an increase in body temperature, your body is naturally dehydrating much faster than normal. Maintaining proper hydration is essential to the healing process. Dehydration can worsen symptoms, and depending on if the fever is accompanied by other symptoms like nasal congestion, vomiting or diarrhea, you would need to replenish fluids that are lost. Water, juice, coconut water and broth are all great options. If you are nursing, then breastmilk beats the benefits of all the aforementioned beverages.
When my babies are sick, my instinct is to wrap them up in blankets and make them super cozy, but heavy clothes and blankets can actually make a fever climb higher. Light clothing and a light blanket, if they require one, is best. A lukewarm bath can aid in lowering a fever.
The immune system requires an enormous amount of energy when it is activated. This is why we often feel drained when we are battling an infection. Naturally, rest, and especially sleep, gives our immune systems a leg up on the invader. Not getting enough sleep in general can have devastating effects on our immune systems and make us more susceptible to catching colds and other viruses. As Daniel Tiger says, “When you’re sick, Rest is Best, Rest is Best.”
Immune Boosting Foods
There is some evidence, according to Harvard, that a deficiency of some micronutrients were found to have altered immune responses. Even better than supplementing with vitamins is to eat foods rich in these nutrients:
- Vitamin B6 found in chicken, cereals, bananas, potatoes with skin
- Vitamin C found in strawberries, tomatoes, citrus fruit, sweet peppers, broccoli, kiwi
- Vitamin E found in sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter
- Magnesium found in whole wheat, legumes, nuts and seeds
- Zinc found in Alaskan king crab, turkey, zinc supplements
- Probiotics found in yogurt, probiotic supplements
- Vitamin D from the sun or an oral drop
- Garlic – my favorite is to chop up a clove to release its allicin and serve in a spoonful of raw honey. They’ll never see it coming….
- Elderberry Syrup
Final Word on Fevers
It is important to watch for any worsening of symptoms and call your doctor if you are worried. If you are pregnant and have a fever, first check in with your doctor to see if they want you to come in to determine what is causing it. If it is viral, any of the above recommendations would work for you. If it turns out to be bacterial, your doctor may want to prescribe you an antibiotic.
If the fever is vaccine-related, there is considerable evidence that you may want to skip the acetaminophen (a.k.a. Tylenol) in general. Giving Tylenol to prevent or reduce a fever in response to a vaccine can weaken your infant’s immune response. Studies have shown that infants who were given acetaminophen after a vaccine had a substantial reduction in their antibody response. Not only that, but giving acetaminophen to infants after MMR was associated with ASD compared to controls who were not given the drug.